Shoes capture our imagination

This is an edited version of my article in April’s Platinum Business Magazine.

Shoe designer Roger Vivier once said that ‘to wear dreams on one’s feet is to begin to give a reality to one’s dreams’. Shoes capture our imagination and are a recurring cultural motif: ruby red slippers in Oz, Elvis’ blue suede shoes, Nancy Sinatra’s walking boots (the list goes on…)

Why are shoes important? A cheap or ill-fitting pair of shoes can instantly let down an entire look. It is the one element of the wardrobe that I would implore everyone to invest in. Good quality shoes lift your whole outfit, are (usually) more comfortable, and, they will last.SC_Shoes_0008

Men love shoes too

It’s a commonly held misconception (in my opinion) that women love shoes more than men. Many men love shoes too – they’re just quieter about it. And they tend to own fewer pairs…

The well-dressed man’s wardrobe should contain these ‘essential five’:

  • For work and more formal occasions: a pair of leather brogues (dark brown or black) and a pair of black leather derby’s (with or without broguing)
  • For off-duty days: a pair of loafers (leather or suede, neutral or colours), a pair of deck or boat shoes and a pair of desert boots

During the tricky transition from winter to spring, you may want to consider additional options. These work well with less formal trousers on ‘dress down’ office days as well as with denim or chinos at the weekend.

  • Suede brogues: can be alternative work shoes, depending on your office
  • Chukka boots: versatile lace-up leather boots that are less formal than brogues but smarter than trainers
  • Leather trainers in dark colours: increasingly popular in recent years and great for very casual occasions.

21 pairs and counting

I believe women have a more explicit (if I can put it that way) relationship with shoes – one that men don’t quite understand. Women’s shoes tend to be beautiful, with the ability to transform the everyday into something spectacular. They are also the one article of clothing that remains constant – no-one has to diet to fit into them! And high heels make every woman look taller and slimmer.


Ignoring the fact that most women have, on average, 21 pairs of shoes, my ‘essential five’ for women are:

  • A pair (or two) of flat shoes (ballet pumps, loafers, brogues, etc) in neutral colours that go with everything
  • good court, mid or kitten heel shoes for workwear and more formal outfits
  • two pairs of evening shoes – slingbacks, peep toes or strappy sandals
  • knee high boots for wearing with skirts, dresses and under trousers
  • a pair of wedges for height in warmer weather

Obviously you can add to these, but in doing so, please choose quality over quantity. Marlene Dietrich once advised buying one pair of good shoes instead of three pairs of poor quality. And finally, do not be seduced by a sensational pair of shoes in the sale that you know you will never wear or that are cripplingly uncomfortable. Say goodbye to them and let them go. There’ll be another pair along soon enough…



In conversation with Gresham Blake

IMG_0996_me and GreshamLast week I attended a Brighton Chamber of Commerce Spotlight Supper event at Silo, where the special guest speaker was tailor Gresham Blake, in conversation with Miranda Birch. Gresham and his team specialise in bespoke and ready to wear suits, shoes and accessories, with shops in Brighton and London.

As well as being quite handy with a sewing machine, Gresham is also a fantastic storyteller. Prompted by Miranda, he regaled the room with tales of how he got started, what are his key influences, and his words of wisdom for anyone wanting to go into fashion.

IMG_0998_Silo frontage

Here are some snippets….

When did you start to make clothes:

I started young, at about aged 5. I remember making a sleeping bag, vests and a gun bag for my Action Man. Later, I wanted my trousers tight so my mum made me take them in myself, teching me how to use a sewing machine. Half of the job of tailoring is being confident with a sewing machine. At age 26 I finally decided what I wanted to do. I did an art foundation course – originally I wanted to do sculpture but there’s no money in it – but I loved fashion, so I got into that.

And why?

I could never find the items I wanted, so I made them. An orange rollneck was particularly memorable….

What inspires you?

I don’t take any notice of what others do in fashion. You end up following if you do that. I do stuff ‘from the gut’.   If I like it, someone else will. I always have fun with it. For example, we may only do 20 of a particular shirt print – it doesn’t matter – people always buy them.

What are your iconic pieces?

Our prints and our printed shirts. They always sell out before they even go into the shop. Accessories are also key for us: ties, cufflinks, pocket squares, etc.

And your favourite design?

It has to be a red and white striped jacket with cherries on it – I designed it purely for a photoshoot – it evoked childhood memories in Tunbridge Wells.

What’s advice would you give to someone starting out in fashion

Be honest and respectful of people. Take your influences from far and wide – art, architecture, etc. And learn bookkeeping !

What’s next for you and the Gresham Blake brand?

Our business is at a crossroads – we have the finance to expand, but I know I can’t do everything. I need to choose one direction. Do I go purely retail ? Or focus on corporatewear? Or expand as a fashion brand? The problem with expanding as a fashion brand is that then we become a slave to’ season’. And I’m a bit too anarchic for that’.

Watch this space to see which direction Gresham heads in next…

The evening was also memorable for the amazing venue. Silo is a restaurant, bakery and coffee house specialising in pre-industrial sustainable food, and is completely zero waste. Next time you’re in Brighton, drop in.


We miss you, Lee.

Lee Alexander McQueen would have been 46 today. His star burned brightly, but briefly, as he died at the age of 40 in February 2010.

Unlike some of the designers I’ve written about, who came from privileged and aristocratic backgrounds (Gaby from Chloe, Givenchy in particular) McQueen was the son of a taxi driver and teacher. He was the youngest of six children, and made dresses for his three sisters from a very young age. Leaving school with an O-level in art, he joined Savile Row tailors Anderson & Shepherd as an apprentice (and then Gieves & Hawkes) which gave him a solid foundation in tailoring.

He applied to Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design to work as a pattern cutter tutor, but was persuaded to enrol instead on the Masters course in fashion design. His 1992 graduation collection was famously bought in its entirety by influential fashion stylist Isabella Blow. Legend has it that it was she who persuaded McQueen to become known as ‘Alexander’.

His life may have been short but his achievements were many. McQueen went on to work as chief designer at Givenchy (succeeding John Galliano) and to found his own label. He designed the wardrobe for David Bowie’s tours in the late ‘90s and the Union Jack coat worn on Bowie’s ‘Earthling’ album cover (the jacket was exhibited as of the Bowie ‘Is’ exhibition at the V&A in 2013). He won four British Designer of the Year Awards and was awarded a CBE in 2003.

McQueen has had a lasting impact on fashion. His ‘bumsters’ kickstarted the trend in low slung jeans when he debuted them in 1993. His skull scarves remain covetable and repeatedly copied. ‘Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty’ opens this week at the V&A to huge demand. The exhibition spans his entire career – from his 1992 graduate collection to his unfinished A/W 2010 collection. I can’t wait to see it….

‘Enfant terrible’ ? Probably. Genius ? Definitely.

How to create a stress-free working wardrobe

This is an edited version of my article in March 2015’s Platinum Business Magazine.

All a woman needs to be chic is a raincoat, two suits, a pair of trousers and a cashmere sweater.’ So said the great Hubert de Givenchy, who clearly had his muse Audrey Hepburn in mind. Audrey obviously didn’t face the same daily wardrobe dilemmas we mere mortals do, particularly when it comes to dressing for work.

With more options than ever before, dressing for work can strike panic into the heart of even the most organised woman. We’ve all been there – stressing on a Monday morning, despairing that we ‘have nothing to wear’ while the pile of discarded outfits grows ever larger on the bed….

Building a coherent yet versatile working wardrobe requires taking a ‘strategic’ approach: gathering pieces that suit you and building on them to create a personal ‘uniform’.  Stella Gibson in ‘The Fall’, played by Gillian Anderson, is a great example. She wore silk blouses in pale colours with neutral skirts or trousers, heels and very little jewellery – a look that was instantly recognisable as ‘hers’.

First, understand your existing clothing and identify the items you repeatedly turn to. Are these suits, trousers, skirts or dresses? Do they have a dominant colour and shape? What basics can you add to create outfits? Once you’ve got outfits pulled together, add accessories to inject colour, texture and character.

The following are essential to any stylish woman’s working wardrobe. Embrace (or disregard) them, depending on your circumstances, to create your ‘uniform’:

  • A suit: the definition of a ‘suit’ has changed dramatically. It can be worn classically or as separates to create multiple outfits
  • A white shirt: the quintessential classic. For wearing alone or layering
  • Dresses (shift, sheath or shirt): the ultimate easy and versatile option – one piece and you’re done !
  • A pencil skirt: another classic that emerges each season in different textures. It can be part of a ‘suit’ if worn with a jacket or cardigan, and is best worn with heels
  • Trousers: choose carefully, as trousers date quickly. Stick to slim cuts and neutral tones
  • A good tailored jacket: preferably in navy, black or grey (depending on your palette) that go with the pieces listed above. This can be part of your suit, of course
  • Fine knit / cashmere jumpers or cardigans: in colours that complement your key pieces and shapes that suit you
  • A structured leather bag: for hauling all your essentials while still looking tidy. Do buy the best you can afford.

Wardrobe success means looking smart, feeling confident and being true to your individual style. Know what you like, what to avoid and don’t be distracted by passing trends. Building a polished working wardrobe takes time and investment. Take pleasure in the process and the results will be sensational.

Men: guide to the new season

Last week I had the pleasure of talking to John, co-founder of Badger Clothing on Bond Street in Brighton. We talked about what’s hot for men for spring/summer 2015 and the key new pieces and brands he’s got in store.

One of the key trends for women Badger_Ben Sherman 1also holds true for the guys – the dominance of denim.   And yes – you can wear double denim, provided you vary the colours, washes and textures. But what about fit ? John says, ‘We’re still seeing fitted jeans for men, but not quite so skinny.   Levi’s, in particular, are having a real resurgence – they have woken up to the pressure from the premium denim market and have introduce interesting new cuts and fits’.

Colour and fun are also key, Another good look for the new season is the emergence of the printed shirt. John: ‘We’re seeing lots more fun and colour for spring/summer. Our John Smedley bright pink polo shirts and knitwear are flying off the shelves. Ben Sherman have introduced a Brighton rock-print shirt and a pier-print shirt – both with matching swim trunks – really fun and a great connection for us. Best of all, they have cross-generational appeal – a guy and his son came in the other day and bought the button-print shirt.’

Badger_Realm & Empire John also told me about some interesting new brands he’s got in stock. Nottingham-based Realm & Empire are a contemporary collection ‘inspired by original finds from the Imperial War Museum garment and print archives’. Each piece has authentic detailing and its own back story. The collection includes merino waffle knitwear, ‘Newton stripe’ t-shirts and ‘officer’ shirts.

What about footwear ? John tells me that classic American brand Bass is selling well, particularly the loafers (penny or tassel) in black or brown. He adds ‘Sanders desert boots, which are still made in Northampton, are also doing well, along with their brogues.’

I asked John what key pieces the well-dressed man should invest in, in terms of his casual wardrobe: ‘Our core products are always a good bet – polo shirts, jeans and chinos, and we have a variety of options depending on budget. For this spring I would also buy the Levi’s dark denim shirt, perhaps a Smedley knit in a bright pink or blue, some J Lindbergh chinos or some Scotch and Soda jeans. The beauty of our casual wear is it’s all interchangeable, so it’s really easy to create a complete wardrobe.’

Badger_John Smedley

Sussex guys – get down to Badger and check it out. And tell John I sent you….

Badger Clothing, 25-26 Bond Street, Brighton BN1 1RD

Twitter: @BadgerClothing